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Pre-Melbourne analysis - 2011 tyres to create new way of racing? 25 Mar 2011

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 24 March 2011 Pirelli tyre.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, 23 March 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 24 March 2011 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB7.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 24 March 2011

Fernando Alonso believes that today will herald the start of a new brand of Formula One racing, thanks to the arrival of Pirelli’s deliberately marginal racing tyres, which have much higher wear rates than the Bridgestones used up until 2010.

"There are many things to learn,” the Spanish Ferrari driver said. “For sure there is a new way of doing the races in terms of strategy, so a new Formula One starts here in Melbourne. We need to be focused on the strategy because it can play a big part in the race result. And maybe on the other hand qualifying on Saturday has less value as on Sunday there will be more factors on track.”

Because of the rate at which the tyres lose their performance edge, teams envisage as many as four pit stops per race. The highest number ever in a race at Albert Park was 49 stops in 2004, but now as many as 80 may feature in the 58-lap event on Sunday if the rain holds off.

"The number of laps we can cover on the hard or soft compound tyres is impossible to predict,” Alonso continued, “but after practice we will understand a bit better how the strategy will work on Sunday. It is a new way of approaching the weekend and the strategy, and hopefully will be more fun for the spectators."

Ferrari also believe that the way in which teams use their tyres in qualifying could be crucial to how they get through Q1 and Q2. The ante will be very high as everyone vies to be one of the 17 cars that make it through Q1, but Ferrari insiders hint that teams that throw too much at getting through that session, and then Q2, could go into Q3 with little firepower left to fight for a decent top-10 grid position.

McLaren’s Jenson Button, meanwhile, suggested: “It is quite possible that the result of a race will come down to where you are running when you stop for your last set of tyres.”

Friday’s sessions will gives the drivers their first taste of the FIA’s decision to let them run the movable drag-reducing rear wings all through each hour and a half rather than just in specified zones during the race. The idea isn’t universally popular, and yesterday Mark Webber reiterated the reservations that some drivers feel when he said: “I don’t think it’s too bad for racing. I’m just a little bit surprised that we have everything at our disposal for qualifying because it doesn’t really add to the show. For us to have to get used to the overload, it’s just an added bit of tummy-tapping, head-rubbing, multi-tasking which is a fraction unnecessary for qualifying, maybe. But I think for the race we need to see how it’s going to work because we’re going to use it a lot less in the race. The rear wing is not going to be used anywhere near as much.

“You have to understand that in qualifying we’re using it every single time we’re at full throttle, so it’s pretty busy. I’m on for a challenge. I’ve done Formula 3000 races round Monaco with a gear stick, so we can drive with one hand, this is not the problem. It’s just that I think that some corners, like Eau Rouge at Spa and some of these other places, if you have to loosen your grip or do something different with the steering wheel, it’s not the way you would normally do things.”

Alonso believes that up to five teams could fight for the title as things currently stand, but that the number is likely to drop to three after the opening races.

“I think it’s important for each team to be competitive in these early races and then be in that smaller group of two or three teams after three or four races,” he said. “But at the moment everything is very open.”

By the end of Friday’s sessions we should all have a much better idea of where everybody fits in the pecking order, and who those teams might be.

David Tremayne

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